Last Wednesday, I was invited to be on the radio to play some records. I brought along a copy of Wooden Wand's Harem Of The Sundrum and The Witness Figg, thinking I'd play one of two songs that struck me as stand-outs. When I say "stand-outs" in regards to Wooden Wand, I am talking about songs that might not end up being the "best" over time, just that thing in radio parlance where something jumps out as a single, or something with more clarity of light than murky atmosphere. When there, on air, my mind blanked on what the second song was. I played "Vengeance Part Two" because, looking at the playlist, I couldn't remember what song "Eagle Claw" referred to.
Later on I realized 'oh right, that's the song where the chorus is "don't say your last words 'til you die".' A lyric I take to mean a refusal to lay down and die a living death, kind of a flipside to David Berman's "on the last day of your life, don't forget to die" line from the Silver Jews song "Advice To The Graduate." On another hearing, I heard the line differently, as "don't save your last words 'til you die," which is sort of the opposite sentiment, but, right, don't view your life as a narrative you can control. Both of these hearings, which are kind of opposites in terms of "What am I supposed to do with these awesome last words I have lying around to use?" apply to Wooden Wand's music in the way in which it's so all over the place in its alternation between psychedelic jam albums and more straightforward singer-songwriter stuff. I can't name a favorite, "best" Wooden Wand record. The best record for the jammy stuff is the Wooden Wand And The Vanishing Voice album The Flood. The best song-oriented record would be the James And The Quiet. This is for records that are actually released on labels, there are slews of CD-Rs around on bootleg networks whathaveyou. There's one I really like from a Spring 2006 tour where Hush Arbors covers Neil Young's Sugar Mountain with a series of high-pitched unnerving notes.
The constant records, under a bunch of different names, is what sort of frustrates the narrative impulse which probably is what makes someone popular- It's hard to place a clear progression, hard for people to agree on a favorite record. How many of the bad reviews of James And The Quiet were probably written by people who wanted jammy stuff? Music reviewers- who I don't hate at all, who I don't think are silly or worthy of mockery- are dealing in words, and end up receptive to narrative clarity. When the record Second Attention came out, filled with religious allusions, critics didn't know what to make of it, so they complained.
The next record made by the guy who uses Wooden Wand as an alias will be done under a birthname, on a major label, and is rumored to sound like Tom Petty.
So this post is a tribute to the scrambled musical path of Wooden Wand, where even the bad records have their moments. Good times.